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Democracy, Oligarcracy and Autocracy
October 15, 2009 Politics

From the time we are little children we are taught to praise the noble experiment of democracy and revile the evils of autocratic rule. But the older I get, the more my thinking turns 180 degrees on this. It is not at all clear to me that democracy is preferable to rule by the few, and I am not at all convinced that rule by the few is preferable to rule by one.

I think this for two reasons.

  1. There is nothing in a democracy that prevents tyranny any less than other forms of rule. This is particularly true when the political class believes the constitution to be an antiquated document not suited for 21st century reality. If nothing can constrain us in a democracy, then I don’t see the protection for me here. But there is a deeper point here. I’d rather be ruled by a few tyrants or a single tyrant than by 151 milli0n of them. This is particularly true when people hold political views more strongly than religious views and elevate political violence against individuals to be virtuous.
  2. When we live in a world with only one autocrat – even if he is not voted for, the political sector is likely to be a far smaller portion of our social lives and our economic lives. There are far smaller interest groups depending on government largesse. In fact, in a democracy, it should not be surprising that 20% of the “workforce” works in government – they have every incentive to vote this privilege for themselves. And we don’t have the option of “opting out” of this. When there is a single tyrant running around, he is far easier to ignore. And no, I do not believe you can make an argument about guns. In a democracy, “we” empower far more people to have guns in far more situations. I’d rather a few crazies running around with guns than more crazies. Maybe I am crazy for believing it.

Generally, there is nothing to protect me in a democracy from tyranny that does not already exist in an autocracy – in fact, I think “escape” could actually be harder in the former than the latter. I wished I were wrong.

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